Showing posts with label Claudio Monteverdi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Claudio Monteverdi. Show all posts

22 October 2019

Salvatore Di Vittorio – composer and conductor

Musician has promoted his native Palermo throughout the world

Salvatore Di Vittorio is the musical director and  conductor of the Chamber Orchestra of New York
Salvatore Di Vittorio is the musical director and
 conductor of the Chamber Orchestra of New York
Salvatore Di Vittorio, founding music director and conductor of the Chamber Orchestra of New York, was born on this day in 1967 in Palermo in Sicily.

Also a composer, Di Vittorio has written music in the style of the early 20th century Italian composer, Ottorino Respighi, who, in turn, based his compositions on the music he admired from the 16th and 17th centuries.

Di Vittorio has been recognised by music critics as respectful of the ancient Italian musical tradition and also as an emerging, leading interpreter of the music of Ottorino Respighi.

He began studying music when he was a child with his father, Giuseppe, who introduced him to the operas of Giuseppe Verdi and Giacomo Puccini. He went on to study composition at the Manhattan School of Music and Philosophy at Columbia University.

He has since worked with orchestras all over the world and composed music for them to perform and has also taught music in New York.

In 2007, Di Vittorio was invited by Elsa and Gloria Pizzoli, Respighi’s great nieces, to edit and complete several of the composer’s early works, including his first Violin Concerto, composed in 1903.

Di Vittorio has been honoured by his home city of Palermo
Di Vittorio has been honoured by his
home city of Palermo
Di Vittorio premiered and then recorded his completed versions of Respighi’s music, along with his own Overtura Respighiana. The recordings were released in 2011.

He has also edited Respighi’s 1908 orchestration of Claudio Monteverdi’s Lamento di Arianna, from the 1608 opera, Arianna.

In November 2012, the critics acclaimed his neo-classical compositions after the world premiere of Di Vittorio’s Sinfoni No 3 Templi di Siciliana with the Orchestra Sinfonica Siciliana at the Teatro Politeama Garibaldi in Palermo.

He completed Respighi’s orchestration of the 1913 Tre Linche - Three Art Songs - in time for the 100th anniversary of the compositions in 2013.

In 2019, Di Vittorio completed the first printed edition of Respighi’s second violin concerto, ‘all’Antica.

Di Vittorio has been awarded the Medal of Palermo from Mayor Leoluca Orlando, in recognition of his contribution to promoting the city of Palermo around the world.

Ottorino Respighi was the inspiration for Di Vittorio's music
Ottorino Respighi was the inspiration
for Di Vittorio's music
In 2016, Di Vittorio became the first Italian-born composer to be invited to donate an autograph manuscript of his work to the Morgan Library and Museum’s world-renowned music archive. He composed La Villa d’Este a Tivoli in 2015 for the Morgan on the occasion of its exhibition, City of the Soul: Rome and the Romantics.

In June 2019, Di Vittorio recorded a second album of his music, which included several world premiere recordings and his new, fourth symphony.

He has said he is fascinated by storytelling in music and is known for his lyrical, symphonic poems, which are often inspired by classical antiquity and show connections to the Italian Renaissance and Baroque periods.

Di Vittorio lives with his family in both Palermo and New York.

Mount Etna, still an active volcano, is a dominant
presence in the east of the island of Sicily
Travel tip:

Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean, just off the toe of Italy’s boot. The ancient ruins, diverse architecture and wonderful cuisine enjoyed by visitors are all testament to the island’s colourful history. Watching over the island is Mount Etna, a volcano that is still active. The capital city, Palermo, where Salvatore di Vittorio was born, has a wealth of beautiful architecture, plenty of shops and markets and is home to the largest opera house in Italy, the Teatro Massimo.

The Teatro Politeama Garibaldi in Palermo staged the world premiere of Di Vittorio's Sinfoni No 3 Templi di Siciliana
The Teatro Politeama Garibaldi in Palermo staged the world
premiere of Di Vittorio's Sinfoni No 3 Templi di Siciliana
Travel Tip:

The Teatro Politeama Garibaldi, where Salvatore Di Vittorio conducted the Orchestra Sinfonica Siciliana playing his Sinfoni No 3 Templi di Siciliana on the occasion of its world premiere, is in Piazza Ruggero Settimo in the historic centre of Palermo. It is the second most important theatre in the city, after the Teatro Massimo. The theatre was inaugurated as the Teatro Municipale Politeama in 1874, but after the death of Giuseppe Garibaldi in 1882, it was decided to name the theatre after him. The theatre was finally completed in 1891 and opened by King Umberto I and Queen Margherita, who were treated to a performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s Otello, featuring the tenor Francesco Tamagno., who had sung Otello in the first performance of the opera in 1887.

Also on this day:

1885: The birth of tenor Giovanni Martinelli

1965: The birth of actress Valeria Golino

1968: Soave is awarded DOC status


8 October 2018

Giulio Caccini - composer

16th century singer who helped create opera genre

Giulio Caccini was at the forefront
of a new musical movement
The singer and composer Giulio Caccini, who was a key figure in the advance of Baroque style in music and wrote musical dramas that would now be recognised as opera, was born on this day in 1551.

The father of the composer Francesca Caccini and the singer Settimia Caccini, he served for some years at the court of the Medici family in Florence, by whom he was also employed, as a somewhat unusual sideline, as a spy.

Caccini wrote the music for three operas and published two collections of songs and madrigals.  His songs for solo voice accompanied by one musical instrument gained him particular fame and he is remembered now for one particular song, a madrigal entitled Amarilli, mia bella, which is often sung by voice students.

Caccini is thought to have been born in Tivoli, just outside Rome, the son of a carpenter, Michelangelo Caccini, from Montopoli, near Pisa.  His younger brother, Giovanni, became a sculptor and architect in Florence.

He developed his voice as a boy soprano in the prestigious Cappella Giulia at St. Peter’s basilica in Rome, studying under maestro di cappella Giovanni Animuccia.  Subsequently, he was invited to Florence by Prince Francesco de’ Medici to perform at his wedding to Johanna of Austria.

The title page of Caccini's collection Le Nuove Musiche, published in 1601
The title page of Caccini's collection
Le Nuove Musiche, published in 1601
Caccini would for the most part remain in Florence for the rest of his life.  By the late 1570s, he was established as a tenor in the Medici court and accompany himself on the viol or the archlute. He took part in the elaborate musical, dramatic, visual spectacles known as intermedi that were the precursors of opera.

He became part of a movement of humanists, writers, musicians and scholars known as the Florentine Camerata, which was dedicated to restoring public appreciation of ancient Greek dramatic music. It was the Camerata who developed the new concept of monody—an emotionally affective solo vocal line, accompanied by relatively simple chordal harmony on one or more instruments.

Caccini became a teacher as well as a singer and composer, training dozens of musicians to sing in the new style, including the castrato Giovanni Gualberto Magli, who sang in the first production of Monteverdi's first opera Orfeo.

He also acquired a reputation as a man driven by jealousy, envy and greed. To advance his position within the Medici court, for example, he spied on behalf of Pietro de’ Medici on Pietro’s wife, Eleonora di Garzia da Toledo, and uncovered an affair, which led an enraged Pietro to murder his wife and have her lover killed.

In 1584, he married another singer, Lucia di Filippo Gagnolanti, with whom he had his two daughters, Francesca and Settimia.

Pietro de' Medici, the prince who employed Caccini to spy on his unfaithful wife
Pietro de' Medici, the prince who employed
Caccini to spy on his unfaithful wife
Caccini helped create musical entertainments for the weddings of two Medicis in the late 1580s.  In the first, the marriage of Virginia de’ Medici and Cesare d’Este in 1586, and of Grand Duke Ferdinando I de’ Medici and Christine of Lorraine in 1589.

He continued to be employed by Ferdinando until he lost his job in 1593 after a fight with one of his students. His wife, Lucia, died in the same year.

Caccini was known for his intense rivalry with fellow composers Emilio de' Cavalieri and Jacopo Peri. There are suspicions that it was Caccini who arranged for a furious Cavalieri to be removed from his post as director of festivities for the wedding of Henry IV of France and Maria de' Medici in 1600, while in response to hearing that Peri was working on a opera production of Euridice, based on the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, he hurriedly wrote his own version of the same story and ordered the singers under his charge to have nothing to do with Peri's production.

By around 1603, Caccini had established a singing group consisting of his daughters Francesca and Settimia, his illegitimate son Pompeo, and his second wife, Margherita di Agostino Benevoli della Scala. The group became very famous and, in 1604, were invited to France by Maria de' Medici.  Francesca was offered a position at the French court but could not accept because of the Florentine court’s refusal to release her.

After his return to Florence, Caccini continued  to write music for court celebrations, especially weddings, while trying to find husbands for his daughters.

In the last years of his life, Caccini was in trouble again in 1615 for fighting with the son of a famed singer and was placed under house arrest. Thereafter his health began to decline and he died in December 1618. He is buried in the Basilica of Santissima Annunziata in Florence.

The Arch of Castruccio and the Tower of San Matteo, in the background, are echoes of Montopoli Val d'Arno's history
The Arch of Castruccio and the Tower of San Matteo, in the
background, are echoes of Montopoli Val d'Arno's history
Travel tip:

Montopoli Val D’Arno, where Caccini’s father was born, is a small town on the banks of the Arno river about 40km (25 miles) southwest of Florence and about 30km (19 miles) east of Pisa, roughly halfway between Florence and the mouth of the Arno at Marina di Pisa. It is a town largely of medieval origins, which was regular fought over by Lucca, Pisa and Florence because of its strategic position. The remains of a fortress, the best preserved of which are the Tower of San Matteo and the Arch of Castruccio are worth a visit.  The area is blessed with a beautiful landscape and an economy based culture based on agriculture, arts and crafts and other traditional industries of Tuscany.

Giovanni Caccini's facade of the church of Santissima Annunziata
Giovanni Caccini's facade of the church of Santissima Annunziata
Travel tip:

The Basilica della Santissima Annunziata, where Caccini is buried, is a Renaissance-style minor basilica in Florence, located on the square of the same name, just over a kilometre’s walk north of the Piazza della Signoria. Built between 1469 and 1481 on the site of a pre-existing church by Leon Battista Alberti, it was refurbished in Baroque-style in the 17th century. The facade of the church, of semi-circular arches mounted on columns, was added in 1601 by Giulio Caccini’s brother, Giovanni, imitating the Renaissance-style of Brunelleschi's facade of the Foundling Hospital.

More reading:

Francesca Caccini and the oldest surviving opera composed by a woman

How Jacopo Peri gave the world its first opera

The Medici daughter who became the queen of France

Also on this day:

1881: The birth of Vincenzo Peruggia - the thief who stole the Mona Lisa

1957: The birth of footballer Antonio Cabrini


22 August 2018

Luca Marenzio – composer

Madrigal writer influenced Monteverdi

Luca Marenzio is believed to have been a  singer employed by the Gonzaga family
Luca Marenzio is believed to have been a
singer employed by the Gonzaga family
Luca Marenzio, a prolific composer of madrigals during the late Renaissance period, died on this day in 1599 in the garden of the Villa Medici on Monte Pincio in Rome.

Marenzio wrote at least 500 madrigals, some of which are considered to be the most famous examples of the form, and he was an important influence on the composer Claudio Monteverdi.

Born at Coccaglio, a small town near Brescia in 1553, Marenzio was one of seven children belonging to a poor family, but he received some early musical training at Brescia Cathedral where he was a choirboy.

It is believed he went to Mantua with the maestro di cappella from Brescia to serve the Gonzaga family as a singer.

Marenzio was then employed as a singer in Rome by Cardinal Cristoforo Madruzzo and, after the Cardinal’s death, he served at the court of Cardinal Luigi d’Este.

He travelled to Ferrara with Luigi d’Este and took part in the wedding festivities for Vincenzo Gonzaga and Margherita Farnese.

While he was there he wrote two books of madrigals and dedicated them to Alfonso II and Lucrezia d’Este.

Marenzio's first book of madrigals was published in 1580
Marenzio's first book of madrigals was published in 1580
Marenzio went on to establish an international reputation as a talented composer of madrigals and he was also an expert lutenist. He was much admired in England and his madrigals were printed in N Yonge’s Musica Transalpina, published in 1588, a collection of music that stimulated the composition of English madrigals.

After the death of Luigi d’Este, Marenzio entered the service of Ferdinando I de’ Medici in Florence, where he formed friendships with composers Piero Strozzi and Antonio de Bicci.

On his return to Rome he entered the service of Virginio Orsini, nephew of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, and he lived in the Orsini palace. Another important patron was Cardinal Cinzio Aldobrandini, nephew of the reigning pope, Clement VIII, who assigned him an apartment in the Vatican.

Marenzio then travelled to Poland to be maestro di cappella at the court of Sigismund III Vasa in Warsaw. He wrote and directed sacred music there, which unfortunately has since been lost.

The visit to Poland affected his health and he did not live long after his return to Rome. While his brother was looking after him, he died in the garden at the Villa Medici on August 22, 1599.

Marenzio was buried in the Church of San Lorenzo in Lucina in Rome.

Vineyards near Coccaglio, which is on the edge of the  Franciacorta wine-making area, near Brescia
Vineyards near Coccaglio, which is on the edge of the
Franciacorta wine-making area, near Brescia
Travel tip:

Coccaglio, Marenzio’s birthplace, is a town in Lombardy, about 32km (20 miles) west of Brescia and 35km (22 miles) southeast of Bergamo.  The municipality is located in the southern edge of Franciacorta, the area famous for its sparkling wine of the same name, which is known as the Italian answer to Champagne, being produced using the same method as the classic French bubbly, as opposed to the faster fermentation process used in the popular Prosecco.

The Villa Medici has been the home of the French Academy in Rome since 1803
The Villa Medici has been the home of the
French Academy in Rome since 1803
Travel tip:

The Villa Medici, where Marenzio died, is on the Pincian Hill next to the church of Trinità dei Monti in Rome, at the head of the Spanish Steps. The villa, built in 1554 in the Mannerist style to a design by Bartolomeo Ammanati, has housed the French Academy in Rome since 1803. In ancient times the site of the Villa Medici was part of the gardens of Lucullus. Behind the Villa Medici stretches out the vast park and gardens of the Villa Borghese.

More reading:

The genius of Claudio Monteverdi

Federico II Gonzaga, the ruler of Mantua who spent his childhood as a political hostage

How Eleonora Gonzaga became Holy Roman Empress

Also on this day:

1849: History's first air raid hits Venice

1914: The death of the progressive Bishop Giacomo Radini-Tedeschi


19 August 2018

Salomone Rossi - violinist and composer

Leading Jewish musician of the late Renaissance 

Salomone Rossi's talent with the violin earned him work for the Mantuan court
Salomone Rossi's talent with the violin
earned him work for the Mantuan court
The composer and violinist Salomone Rossi, who became a renowned performer at the court of the Gonzagas in Mantua in the late 16th and early 17th centuries and is regarded as the leading Jewish musician of the late Renaissance, is thought to have been born on this day in 1570.

Jews had periodically been the subject of persecution in the Italian peninsula for hundreds of years. At around the time of Rossi’s birth, Pope Pius V expelled all Jews from all but two areas of the papal states and Florence established a ghetto, in which all Jews within the city and the wide Grand Duchy of Tuscany were required to live.

The Mantua of Rossi’s day was much more enlightened than many Italian cities, however. Jews were not only tolerated but they were often allowed to mix freely with non-Jews. The liberal atmosphere allowed Jewish writers, musicians and artists to have an important influence on the culture of the day.

The court of Mantua was not only renowned for its royal luxury but as a centre of artistic excellence. At the end of the 15th century the duchess Isabella d’Este Gonzaga actively sought out the finest musicians in Italy, bringing them to Mantua to compose new music and perform it for the entertainment of the royal family.

Vincenzo I was the first duke of Mantua to employ Salomone Rossi
Vincenzo I was the first duke of
Mantua to employ Salomone Rossi
The duke Gugliemo Gonzaga, in the second half of the 16th century, established a resident musical ensemble within the castle walls and his successor, Vincenzo I Gonzaga, at the turn of the 17th century, had on his payroll composers of the quality and standing of Claudio Monteverdi, Giovanni Gastoldi and Lodovico Vladana, to provide music for banquets, wedding feasts, musical-theatre productions and chapel services.

Rossi had come to the court’s attention as a talented violinist and he entered the service of duke Vincenzo I in 1587 as a singer and viola player.

Soon he was given the title of concertmaster as the leader of the duke’s instrumental ensemble, tasked with entertaining the ducal family and their esteemed guests. He was so well thought of that he was excused from wearing the yellow badge that was still required of Jews in Mantua, despite the enlightened atmosphere that prevailed. The privilege was renewed in 1612 by the new duke, Francesco IV.

Nonetheless, it is not thought that he could have enjoyed a permanent salaried position at the court, a privilege almost exclusively reserved for Christian musicians.  He would have been paid by the court on an individual basis for his performances at court events and for his vocal and instrumental compositions.

There is evidence that he also played for Paolo Adreasi, the Count of Rhodes, Fredrico Rossi, the Count of San Secundo, and Alessandro Pico, Prince of Mirandola. He also had support and protection from two prominent Jewish figures in Mantua: Moses Sullam, who provided him with financial support, and Rabbi Leone da Modena, who offered guidance and protection. Rossi was also heavily involved in Mantuan theatrical life.

The opening pages to a Rossi score for a madrigal  played in Venice in 1628
The opening pages to a Rossi score for a madrigal
played in Venice in 1628
As a composer, Rossi applied his creative talents to a new fashion in music known as monadic song, with one leading solo voice supported by a fundamental bass. He is considered the pioneer of these new Baroque forms which include the trio sonata and suite.

His first published work in 1589 was a collection of 19 canzonettes - short, dance-like compositions for a trio of voices with lighthearted, amorous lyrics.

Rossi also composed more serious madrigals, combining the poetry of the greatest poets of the day with his melodies. In 1600, in the first two of his five madrigal books, Rossi published the earliest continuo madrigals, an innovation which marked the beginning of the Baroque era in music.

As a Jewish musician, his lasting contribution is his Ha-Shirim Asher li-Shelomo, 33 settings for three to eight voices of Hebrew texts, edited by Rabbi Leone.

Rossi's name as a violist appears on the ducal payrolls in Mantua until 1622.

The death of the last Gonzaga duke and the sack of Mantua by the Austrian army (1628-30) ended the golden age of Mantuan court music. Many of Mantua’s Jews fled to the ghetto in Venice, where they joined the Jewish musical Accademia degli Impediti. 

It is not known whether Rossi himself was still alive and active in the Accademia. Some historians believe he died during the invasion of Austrian troops, who destroyed the Jewish ghetto in Mantua, or in a subsequent plague which ravaged the area.

Rossi's sister, Madama Europa, who was an opera singer at the court in Mantua and possibly the first Jewish woman to be professionally engaged in that field, also disappeared after the end of the Gonzaga court and subsequent sack of the ghetto.

The facade of the Palazzo Ducale in Mantua, which was the palace of the Gonzagas between 1328 and 1707
The facade of the Palazzo Ducale in Mantua, which was
the palace of the Gonzagas between 1328 and 1707
Travel tip:

Mantua is an atmospheric old city in Lombardy, to the south east of Milan, famous for its Renaissance Palazzo Ducale, the seat of the Gonzaga family between 1328 and 1707. The Camera degli Sposi is decorated with frescoes by Andrea Mantegna, depicting the life of Ludovico Gonzaga and his family. The beautiful backgrounds of imaginary cities and ruins reflect Mantegna’s love of classical architecture.

The ampoules that allegedly contain drops of the blood of Christ, mixed with soil
The ampoules that allegedly contain drops
of the blood of Christ, mixed with soil
Travel tip:

In the Renaissance heart of Mantua is Piazza Mantegna, where the 15th century Basilica of Sant’Andrea houses the tomb of the artist, Andrea Mantegna. The church was originally built to accommodate the large number of pilgrims who came to Mantua to see a precious relic, two ampoules containing what were believed to be drops of Christ’s blood mixed with earth. This was claimed to have been collected at the site of his crucifixion by a Roman soldier.

More reading:

The Gonzaga duke who spent his childhood as a political hostage

Andrea Mantegna - master of perspective

The genius of Claudio Monteverdi

Also on this day:

1580: The death of Antonio Palladio, the world's favourite architect

1957: The birth of former azzurri football coach Cesare Prandelli


29 January 2017

Luigi Nono - avant-garde composer

Venetian used music as a medium for political protest

Luigi Nono: the composer who used his music to express his political viewpoint
Luigi Nono: the composer who used his music
to express his political viewpoint
The Italian avant-garde composer Luigi Nono, famous for using music as a form of political expression, was born in Venice on this day in 1924.

Nono, whose compositions often defied the description of music in any traditional sense, was something of a contradiction in that he was brought up in comfortable surroundings and had a conventional music background.

His father was a successful engineer, wealthy enough to provide for his family in a large house in Dorsoduro, facing the Giudecca Canal, while his grandfather, a notable painter, inspired in him an interest in the arts.  He had music lessons with the composer Gian Francesco Malipiero at the Venice Conservatory, where he developed a fascination for the Renaissance madrigal tradition, before going to the University of Padua to study law.

Nono appreciated the natural sounds of Venice, in particular how much they were influenced by the water, and as he began to compose works of his own there might have been an expectation that any contemporary influences would have been against a backcloth of ideas rooted in tradition.

Yet the classical Venetian music of Giovanni Gabrieli, Antonio Vivaldi and others could not have been further away from the sounds that would define much of Nono's output.

There was no harmony or melody, none of the things commonly associated with music.  Instead, Nono's compositions often comprised strange sounds, generated by conventional instruments and voices, yet difficult to associate with them.  Listening to them was uncomfortable but that was their purpose, to defy convention and challenge the listener to be aroused and seek an interpretation, in much the same way that modern art asks the observer to see visual images in a different way.

Luigi Nono was born in this house on Fondamenta Zattere al Ponte Longo, facing the wide Giudecca Canal
Luigi Nono was born in this house on Fondamenta Zattere
al Ponte Longo, facing the wide Giudecca Canal
Nono's early influences were the Italian composer-conductor Bruno Maderna and German conductor Hermann Scherchen, with whom he began working in 1946 and who both encouraged his work.  He attended the Summer Course for New Music in Darmstadt, Germany, where his compositions reflected his admiration for the Austrian abstract composer Anton Webern. 

Yet just as strong an influence was his politics. Like many Italian intellectuals of the post-war period, Nono had been disturbed by the experience of growing up under Fascism. He rebelled in the 1950s by becoming a Communist, following in the footsteps of other well-heeled intellectuals, such as the film director Luigi Visconti.

However, there was nothing faddish or self-indulgent about his interest in left-wing causes. It seemed to be at the roots of his being. "An artist must concern himself with his time," he once said. "Injustice dominates in our time. As man and musician I must protest.

"The genesis of every work of mine springs from some human 'provocation' – an event or a text in our lives which provokes my instinct and my consciousness to bear witness."

Thus he produced pieces such as Il Canto Sospeso  - 'The Suspended Song' - which celebrates the heroic deaths of Resistance fighters. Later pieces would highlight revolutionary causes around the world from Mao to Castro yet never was any protesting sentiment expressed in a rousing chorus, rather in distorted and fragmented sounds, the sounds of shouts and screams and rage.

Nono's grave at the cemetery of San Michele
Nono's grave at the cemetery of San Michele
He wrote pieces protesting against the atomic bomb, against American involvement in Vietnam and was inspired by visits to former Nazi prison camps.  Nono was once described as the angriest composer that ever lived, a flippant remark yet once that seemed to be borne out by his body of work.

Only in his later years did he mellow, when his compositions sought to reflect the stillness and muffled sounds of Venice at its most haunting, in the winter, empty of crowds and shrouded in mists.

Married to the daughter of Arnold Schoenberg, the Austrian composer and music theorist who was an early influence, Nono had two daughters, Silvia and Serena. He died from a liver complaint in 1990. He is buried at the cemetery on San Michele island.

Travel tip:

The Dorsoduro, where Nono grew up, is one of the six sestieri - municipal areas - of Venice, sitting between the Grand Canal and the Giudecca Canal.  It is regarded as a good place to get the feel for the more traditional Venice, without the huge crowds and tourist trappings associated with the areas around St Mark's and the Rialto.  There are many traditional bacari, the small bars that sell inexpensive small snacks - cicchetti - along with glasses of wine - known locally as ombre, as well as squares where local people meet during the day and students gather at night.  Yet it is also home to some fine churches, such as San Sebastiano, full of works by Veronese, and two of the city's most prestigious galleries, the Accademia and the Peggy Guggenheim.

Hotels in Venice from

The church of San Sebastiano in Dorsoduro has many  works by the Venetian Renaissance painter Veronese
The church of San Sebastiano in Dorsoduro has many
works by the Venetian Renaissance painter Veronese
Travel tip:

The Giudecca itself - an island divided from the main body of Venice by the wide Giudecca Canal - is perhaps even more representative of the real Venice, if such a thing exists.  Rarely a destination for many tourists, apart from the well-heeled ones who stay at the famed Hotel Cipriani at its eastern tip, it was once home to only the residents of a small fishing village. Later it was developed for market gardens and then became fashionable with Venice's wealthier residents as somewhere with space to build their grand houses.  More recently, the western end of the island has become home to shipyards and factories.  There are plenty of interesting streets and enough bars and local restaurants to satisfy those curious enough to explore.

Hotels in Venice from Expedia

More reading:

How the Baroque master Antonio Vivaldi died penniless in Vienna

Gabrieli's music led the transition from Renaissance to Baroque in music of Venice

How the Venetian Patty Pravo turned her back on classical music for a career in pop

Also on this day:

1966: Fire destroys Venice's La Fenice opera house

(Picture credits: Luigi Nono from Zoeken; Nono's house and San Sebastiano by Didier Descouens; grave by Smerus; all via Wikimedia Commons)


3 December 2016

Nicolò Amati - violin maker

Grandson of Andrea Amati produced some of world's finest instruments

A portrait of Nicolò Amati by French artist Jacques-Joseph Lecurieux
A portrait of Nicolò Amati by French
artist Jacques-Joseph Lecurieux
Nicolò Amati, who is acknowledged as the greatest in the line of Amati violin makers in the 16th and 17th centuries, was born on this day in 1596 in Cremona.

The grandson of Andrea Amati, who is credited by most experts with being the inventor of the violin in its four-stringed form, Nicolò followed his father, Girolamo, and uncle, Antonio, into the family business.

Girolamo and Antonio went their separate ways in around 1590, Antonio setting up a different workshop, which was thought to specialize in lutes.

Initially, Nicolò made instruments that were very similar to those created by Girolamo but later began to add refinements of his own, the most significant of which came between 1630 and 1640 when he created the Grand Amati design.

This model, slightly wider and longer than the violins his father had produced, yielded greater power of tone than the smaller instruments and soon became sought after.

The bubonic plague outbreak that swept through Italy between 1629 and 1633 claimed the lives of both Girolamo and Nicolò's mother, Laura, and that of his main rival in violin manufacture at the time, Giovanni Paolo Maggini, from the Brescian school.

With Antonio also dead, although a few years earlier, and none of Girolamo's other sons having entered the business, Nicolò was left as one of the only active luthiers in the Cremonese tradition.

A 1662 violin made by Nicolò Amati in the Grand Amati design
A 1662 violin made by Nicolò Amati
in the Grand Amati design
He struggled in the years immediately following the plague outbreak, when Europe was gripped by famine and owning luxury violins was not a priority even for the wealthier nobleman. But gradually returned to normal and the success of the Grand Amati model created a demand Nicolò was unable to meet on his own.

As a result, he took the decision for the first time to take on assistants from outside the family and appointed a number of apprentices, including Andrea Guarneri, Giacomo Gennaro and the German Matthias Klotz, who all went on to become great violin makers in their own right.

While there is no clear documentation of his having worked in Nicolò's shop, the brilliant Antonio Stradivari was clearly a student of his style and methods, as were Francesco Ruggiero, Giovanni Battista Ruggiero and the Austrian Jacob Stainer.

Nicolò's son, Girolamo, often known by his Latinized name Hieronymous II, continued in the family line, although without the same level of success as his forebears.

Thomas Bowes still plays a 1659 Nicolò Amati violin
Thomas Bowes still plays a
1659 Nicolò Amati violin
As well as producing a sweet, mellow tone, Nicolò's violins were characterized by their elegance and quality craftsmanship and fetch large prices when they appear in auction houses today, even if not quite in the league of the Stradivarius instruments.

In 2013, the London auctioneers Ingles and Hayday sold a 1658 violin by Nicolò Amati for £432,000 ($654,590; €508,775).

The distinguished English violinist and orchestra leader Thomas Bowes is a prominent performer who uses a Nicolò Amati violin, the one he plays being manufactured in 1659.

Travel tip:

As well as being known universally as the city of the violin, with a number of manufacturers based there today, Cremona is also associated the with composer Claudio Monteverdi.  The Baroque musician, whose 1607 work L'Orfeo is recognised as the first full-length opera, was born in Cremona and studied music at the city's 12th century Romanesque Duomo.

Piazza della Loggia in the historic centre of Brescia
Piazza della Loggia in the historic centre of Brescia
Travel tip:

Brescia, a city in Lombardy situated between Lake Garda and the smaller Lago d'Iseo, is often overlooked by visitors to the area and first impressions are often coloured by the somewhat seedy nature of the streets in the immediate vicinity of the railway station.   However, the historic centre contains some of the best preserved Roman buildings in northern Italy as well as a medieval castle, two cathedrals and the beautiful Renaissance square, Piazza della Loggia.

More reading:


27 August 2016

Titian - giant of Renaissance art

Old master of Venice who set new standards

Titian, a self-portrait painted in about 1567, which can be found in the Prado in Madrid
Titian, a self-portrait painted in about 1567,
which can be found in the Prado in Madrid
Tiziano Vecellio, the artist better known as Titian, died in Venice on August 27, 1576.  Possibly in his 90s by then - his date of birth has never been established beyond doubt - he is thought to have succumbed to the plague that was sweeping through the city at that time.

Titian is regarded as the greatest painter of 16th century Venice, a giant of the Renaissance held in awe by his contemporaries and seen today as having had a profound influence on the development of painting in Italy and Europe.

The artists of Renaissance Italy clearly owe much to the new standards set by Titian in the use of colour and his penetration of human character.  Beyond Italy, the work of Rubens, Rembrandt and Manet have echoes of Titian.

Titian was enormously versatile, famous for landscapes, portraits, erotic nudes and monumental religious works.  Although it was his fullness of form, the depth of colour and his ability to bring his figures almost to life which he earned his reputation, he was not afraid to experiment with his painting.  Towards the end of his life, some of his works were impressionist in nature, almost abstract.

Born in Piave di Cadore, a village at the foot of the Dolomites, he was one of four sons of a military official, Gregorio di Conte dei Vecelli.  He and his older brother, Francesco, also a painter, moved to Venice when Tiziano was nine or 10 years old, to live with an uncle.

By the age of 12, Tiziano was working for Giovanni Bellini, the best known of the Bellini family of Renaissance painters in Venice, whose workshop was one of the most important in the city.  In around 1508 he began working with Giorgione of Castelfranco, collaborating on frescoes at the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, the headquarters of Venice's German merchants, situated on the Grand Canal near the Rialto bridge.

Titian's Pesaro Madonna in the  Frari church in Venice
Titian's Pesaro Madonna in the
Frari church in Venice
Giorgione was such a strong influence on Titian's early work that there are a number of paintings in existence that are so similar in their characteristics they could be attributed to either painter.

Titian launched his independent career after Giorgione died in 1510.  His popularity grew rapidly and among those who commissioned him were Alfonse I of Este, Duke of Ferrara, the Duke of Urbino, the Court of Pope Paolo III Farnese, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and Charles's son, Philip II of Spain.

He travelled within Italy and to other parts of Europe, including Austria, but after 1551 rarely left Venice, except for summer visits to Pieve di Cadore.  He was married in 1525 and is thought to have had three or four children, one of whom, Orazio, became his assistant but also died in the plague.  His wife, Cecilia, passed away after they had been together for only five years, and he never married again.

Titian courted controversy with the obvious eroticism of his nudes and through his friendship with the writer Pietro Aretino, a journalist whose work scandalised 16th century Italian society.  Aretino arrived in Venice at around the same time as the sculptor Jacopo Sansovino, and the three are said to have become inseparable.

Around 300 of an estimated 400 of Titian's works are said to have survived.  Some are in churches in Venice and elsewhere in Italy, such as the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in the San Polo quarter of Venice, where visitors can see the vivid colours of the Pesaro Madonna and the monumental Assumption of the Virgin, set behind the high altar.  There are also a number of Titians in the Church of Santa Maria della Salute on the Punta Dogana, between the Grand Canal and the Giudecca Canal.

Venus of Urbino, a work by Titian painted in 1538, which is on display at the Uffizi in Florence
Venus of Urbino, a work by Titian painted in 1538,
which is on display at the Uffizi in Florence
Others are in galleries around the world, including the National Gallery in London, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Uffizi in Florence, the Louvre in Paris and the Museo del Prado in Madrid.

When they do change hands it is for considerable sums.  For example, when Diana and Actaeon, one work in a seven-part series of mythological paintings for Philip II of Spain, became available, it was bought by the National Gallery and the National Galleries of Scotland in conjunction for £50 million.

Titian was buried at the Basilica of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari.  At first his resting place, near to the Pesaro Madonna, was unmarked, but later the Austrian rulers of Venice commissioned Antonio Canova to sculpt a large monument. Canova's own heart was buried within the monument after his death at the age of 64.

Titian's Assumption of the Virgin dominates the high altar inside the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari
Titian's Assumption of the Virgin dominates the high altar
inside the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari
Travel tip:

The Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, often referred to simply as the Frari, is one of Venice's greatest churches, situated in Campo dei Frari at the heart of the San Polo district.  Built of brick, it is one of three notable churches in Venice built in the Italian Gothic style.  Construction began in the 14th century and took more than 100 years to complete, including a campanile that is the second tallest in Venice, after St Mark's.  In addition to Titian, the brilliant composer Claudio Monteverdi was also buried in the Frari.

Travel tip:

The Church of Santa Maria della Salute is one of the most familiar sights of Venice, one captured by many artists, including Turner and Canaletto. Its position on the narrow promontory between the Grand Canal and the Giudecca Canal enables it to stand almost like a sentry, guarding the entrance to the Bacino di San Marco and the lagoon beyond.  It houses a number of works by Titian. Ironically, given how the artist died, it was built by the Republic of Venice as an offer for the city's deliverance from the devastating outbreak of plague that occurred in 1630, dedicated to Our Lady of Health (in Italian: Salute).

Read more:

Lisa del Giocondo - Florentine mother immortalised as the Mona Lisa

How the works of Tintoretto still adorn Venice


Titian: Circa 1490-1576, by Ian G Kennedy

Titian: His Life and the Golden Age of Venice, by Sheila Hale

(Photo inside the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari by Welleschik CC BY-SA 3.0)


20 August 2016

Jacopo Peri – composer and singer

Court musician produced the first work to be called an opera

The music and words from the prologue of Peri's Euridice
The music and words from the
prologue of Peri's Euridice
The singer and composer Jacopo Peri, also known as Il Zazzerino, was born on this day in 1561 in Rome.

He is often referred to as the ‘inventor of opera’ as he wrote the first work to be called an opera, Dafne, in around 1597.

He followed this with Euridice in 1600, which has survived to the present day although it is rarely performed. It is sometimes staged as an historical curiosity because it is the first opera for which the complete music still exists.

Peri was born in Rome to a noble family but went to Florence to study and then worked in churches in the city as an organist and a singer.

He started to work for the Medici court as a tenor singer and keyboard player and then later as a composer, producing incidental music for plays.

Peri’s work is regarded as bridging the gap between the Renaissance period and the Baroque period and he is remembered for his contribution to the development of dramatic vocal style in early Baroque opera.

Peri began working with Jacopo Corsi, a leading patron of music in Florence, and they decided to try to recreate Greek tragedy in musical form. They brought in a poet, Ottavio Rinuccini, to write a text and produced Dafne as a result. It was performed privately at Corsi’s home in Florence and then several more times over the next few years. This is now believed to be the first opera.

The tomb of Jacopo Peri in the Church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence
The tomb of Jacopo Peri in the Church of Santa Maria
Novella in Florence
They then collaborated on Euridice, which was performed in 1600 at Palazzo Pitti on the occasion of Maria dè Medici’s marriage to Henry IV of France. Peri is believed to have sung the role of Orpheus himself on this occasion.

This more public staging of Peri’s work awakened wider interest in opera as a new form of music.

Peri went on to produce other operas and pieces of music for court entertainments. Few of his compositions are still performed today but it is thought he had a big influence on the composers that came later, such as Claudio Monteverdi.

Peri died in Florence in 1633 and was buried in the Church of Santa Maria Novella in the city.

Travel tip:

Palazzo Pitti, where Euridice was first performed in 1600, was originally built for the banker Luca Pitti in 1457 in the centre of Florence, to try to outshine the Medici family. They later bought it from his bankrupt heirs and made it their main residence in 1550. Today visitors can look round the richly decorated rooms and see treasures from the Medici collections.

The Church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence was built in the 13th century
The Church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence
was built in the 13th century
Travel tip:

The Gothic Church of Santa Maria Novella, where Peri is buried, was built in the 13th century by the Dominicans. The railway station of the same name was built in the 1930s opposite the church to replace the original 19th century station. Peri’s gravestone in the nave of the church credits him with inventing opera.

More reading:

How Monteverdi developed opera as a popular genre

How Cosimo II de Medici maintained family tradition for patronage of the arts

(Pic of José Antonio Bielsa Arbiol (CC BY-SA 4.0)


12 August 2016

Giovanni Gabrieli – composer

Venetian musician inspired spread of the Baroque style

The tomb of Giovanni Gabrieli in the Church of Santo Stefano in the San Marco district of Venice
The tomb of Giovanni Gabrieli in the Church of
Santo Stefano in the San Marco district of Venice
Giovanni Gabrieli, composer and organist, died on this day in 1612 in Venice.

He had been a major influence behind the transition from Renaissance music to the Baroque style in Europe.

Born in Venice between 1554 and 1557, Giovanni grew up studying with his uncle, the composer Andrea Gabrieli, for whom he always had great respect.

He also went to Munich to study with the musicians at the court of Duke Albert V, which had a lasting influence on his composing style.

After his return to Venice he became principal organist at St Mark’s Basilica in 1585. Following the death of his uncle, he took the post of principal composer at St Mark’s as well and spent a lot of time editing his uncle’s music for publication, which would otherwise have been lost.

Listen to Gabrieli's Canzon XVI for 12 parts

He took the additional post of organist at the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, which was second only to St Mark’s in prestige at the time.

The English writer Thomas Coryat wrote about musical performances there in his travel memoirs.

The Scuola Grande di San Rocco (left) adjoins the  Church of San Rocco in Venice in the San Polo district
The Scuola Grande di San Rocco (left) adjoins the
Church of San Rocco in Venice in the San Polo district
Composers from all over Europe came to Venice to study after the publication of Giovanni’s Sacred Symphonies (Sacrae Symphoniae) in 1597.

Using the acoustics of St Mark’s to full advantage, he wrote music for separated choirs, but specified which instruments were to be used and which choirs were to use soloists as well as full choir, in order to distinguish between the musical style of each. This was a new approach to orchestration.

Giovanni made his pupils study Madrigals as well as the Venetian style of music and they took back the early Baroque style to their own countries, which profoundly affected the course of music history.

In Germany, the music of Johann Sebastian Bach was founded on the early Baroque tradition, which had its roots in Venice.

Giovanni Gabrieli died as a result of complications with a kidney stone in 1612 and he is buried in the Church of Santo Stefano in Campo Santo Stefano in Venice.

Easy to see why the Basilica of St Mark is sometimes known as the Chiesa d'Oro - the Church of Gold
Easy to see why the Basilica of St Mark is sometimes
known as the Chiesa d'Oro - the Church of Gold
Travel tip:

St Mark’s Basilica is the Cathedral Church of Venice and one of the best examples of Italo-Byzantine architecture in existence. Because of its opulent design and gold ground mosaics it became a symbol of Venetian wealth and power and has been nicknamed Chiesa d’Oro (Church of Gold). The spacious interior with its multiple choir lofts inspired the development of the Venetian polychoral style used by the Gabrielis, uncle and nephew, and Claudio Monteverdi.

Travel tip:

The Scuola Grande di San Rocco was established in 1478 by a group of wealthy Venetians next to the Church of San Rocco as a charitable institution to give money to the sick and needy and their families. Tintoretto decorated the walls and ceilings of the Scuola with a remarkable cycle of paintings in 1564. The Scuola is a few minutes walk from the San Tomà vaporetto stop on the Grand Canal.

(Photo of the tomb by Giovanni Dall'Orto)
(Photo of Scuola di San Rocco by MarkusMark  CC BY-SA)


15 May 2016

Claudio Monteverdi – composer

Baroque musician who gave us the first real opera

Portrait of Monteverdi
Bernardo Strozzi's 1630 portrait of Monteverdi
The composer and musician Claudio Monteverdi was baptised on this day in 1567 in Cremona in Lombardy.

Children were baptised soon after their birth in the 16th century so it is possible Monteverdi was born on 15 May or just before.

He was to become the most important developer of a new genre, the opera, and bring a more modern touch to church music.

Monteverdi studied under the maestro di cappella at the cathedral in Cremona and published several books of religious and secular music while still in his teens.

He managed to secure a position as a viola player at Vincenzo Gonzaga’s court in Mantua where he came into contact with some of the top musicians of the time. He went on to become master of music there in 1601
It was his first opera, L’Orfeo, written for the Gonzaga court, that really established him as a composer.

In the early 17th century, the intermedio, the music played between the acts of a play, was evolving into the form of a complete musical drama, or opera. Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo was the first fully developed example of this and is the earliest opera still being regularly staged.

It had its first performance in 1607 in Mantua. Two letters, both dated 23 February, 1607, refer to the opera due to be performed the next day in the Ducal Palace as part of the annual carnival in Mantua in Lombardy.

Picture of L'Orfeo frontispiece
The frontispiece from Monteverdi's
score of L'Orfeo, performed in 1607
In one of them a palace official writes: ‘… it should be most unusual as all the actors are to sing their parts.’

Francesco Gonzaga, the brother of the Duke, wrote in a letter dated 1 March, 1607 that the performance had been to the ‘great satisfaction of all who heard it.’

L’Orfeo, or La favola d’Orfeo as it is sometimes called, is based on the Greek legend of Orpheus. It tells the story of the hero’s descent to Hades and his unsuccessful attempt to bring his dead bride, Eurydice, back to the living world.

The libretto had been written by Alessandro Striggio and the singers were accompanied by an orchestra of about 40 musical instruments.

It was staged again in Mantua and then possibly in other towns in Italy before the score was published by Monteverdi in 1609. There is evidence that the opera was also performed in Salzburg, Geneva and Paris from 1614 onwards.

But after Monteverdi’s death in 1643 the opera was forgotten until a 19th century revival led to other performances.

While it is recognised that L'Orfeo is not the first opera, it is the earliest opera that is still regularly performed in theatres today and it established the basic form that European opera was to take for the next 300 years.

A performance in Paris in 1911 gave L’Orfeo particular prominence and it has since been regularly included in the repertoire of opera houses.

Nowadays, Monteverdi is acknowledged as the first great opera composer.

Photo of Cremona's Duomo
The Duomo in Cremona, where
Monteverdi studied music
Travel tip:

Cremona’s Duomo, where Monteverdi studied music, is an important example of Romanesque architecture dating from the 12th century. The facade with its large rose window was probably added in the 13th century. Linked to the cathedral by a loggia, is the Torrazzo, the tallest bell tower in Italy and the third largest in the world, standing at 112.7 metres. Work began on the Torrazzo in the eighth century and the spire was completed in 1309. 

Travel tip:

Mantua is an atmospheric old city, to the south east of Milan, famous for its Renaissance Palazzo Ducale, the seat of the Gonzaga family, which has a famous room, Camera degli Sposi, decorated with frescoes by Andrea Mantegna.  It is not known for certain, but the premiere of L’Orfeo may have taken place in the Galleria dei Fiumi, which has the dimensions to accommodate a stage and orchestra and space for a small audience.

More reading:

The story of Monteverdi's L'Orfeo

Luca Marenzio, the madrigal writer who influenced Monteverdi

How court musician Jacopo Peri wrote the first 'opera'

Also on this day:

1902: The birth of band leader Pippo Barzizza

1936: The birth of actress and opera singer Anna Maria Alberghetti